Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 874 to 899 and by the time of his death, the dominant ruler of England. He is one of only two English monarchs to be given the epithet "the Great", the other being the Scandinavian Cnut the Great. He was the first to style himself as King of the Anglo-Saxons and so is often identified as the first English King in many regal lists.
During his reign he had to repeatedly deal with Viking invaders, including the struggle with the Great Heathen Army, which he inherited on his succession to the throne of Wessex on 23rd April 871. He would win some significant military victories in doing so, including the Battle of Edington in 878.
Alfred had a reputation as a learned and merciful man of a gracious and level-headed nature who encouraged education, proposing that primary education be taught in English rather than Latin, and improved his kingdom's legal system, military structure and his people's quality of life.
Alfred died on 26 October 899. He was originally buried in the Old Minster in Winchester but was moved to the New Minster four years later. In 1110, the monks were transferred to Hyde Abbey along with Alfred's body, which was presumably interred before the high altar. He was succeeded by his son Edward the Elder, who ruled until 924.
Much of what we know of Alfred comes from his biography by Bishop Asser, which Alfred himself commissioned. It is therefore unsurprising that this work emphasised the king’s positive aspects. Later medieval historians, such as Geoffrey of Monmouth, perhaps influenced by this text, also reinforced Alfred's favourable image. Alfred’s promotion of English rather than Latin meant that he continued to be viewed positively during the time of the Reformation. Consequently, it was writers of the sixteenth century who gave Alfred his epithet as 'the Great' rather than any of Alfred's contemporaries. The epithet was retained by succeeding generations of Parliamentarians and empire-builders who saw Alfred's patriotism, success against barbarism, promotion of education and establishment of the rule of law as supporting their own ideals.
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